An Indonesian police chief and nine elite officers were sacked on Monday, and 18 others were being investigated for responsibility for firing tear gas inside a football stadium which sparked a stampede, killing at least 125 people, officials said.
The distraught family members struggled to come to terms with the loss of loved ones, including 17 children, at the game in the East Java town of Malang, which was attended only by football fans. Arema FC. The organizer had banned fans of visiting team Persebaya Surabaya due to Indonesia’s history of fierce football rivalries.
Saturday night’s disaster was among the deadliest on record at a sporting event.
Arema players and officials laid wreaths outside the stadium on Monday.
“We have come here as a team to ask forgiveness from the families affected by this tragedy, those who have lost loved ones or those who are still being treated in hospital,” said Arema coach Javier Roca. .
On Monday evening, around 1,000 football fans dressed in black shirts held a candlelight vigil at a football stadium in Jakarta’s satellite city, Bekasi, to pray for the victims of the disaster.
Witnesses said some of Arema’s 42,000 supporters ran onto the pitch in anger on Saturday after the team lost 3-2, their first home loss to Persebaya in 23 years. Some threw bottles and other objects at football players and officials. At least five police vehicles were overturned and set on fire outside the stadium.
But most of the deaths occurred when riot police, attempting to stop the violence, fired tear gas, including into the stands, triggering a disastrous stampede of supporters racing in panic for the exits. Most of the 125 people who died were trampled on or asphyxiated. Among the victims were two police officers.
At least 17 children were among the dead and seven were being treated in hospitals, the Ministry for the Promotion of Women and Child Protection said. Police say 323 people were injured in the crash, some of whom remain in critical condition.
National police spokesman Dedy Prasetyo said Malang police chief Ferli Hidayat was removed from his post along with nine members of an elite police mobile brigade. They risk being fired as part of a police ethics trial.
Prasetyo said 18 officers responsible for the tear gas firing, ranging from mid-ranking to high-ranking, were under investigation.
Police are interviewing witnesses and analyzing video from 32 security cameras inside and outside the stadium and nine mobile phones belonging to the victims as part of an investigation that will also identify the suspected vandals, did he declare.
The parents and other relatives of Faiqotul Hikmah, 22, wept on Monday when an ambulance arrived at their home with his body wrapped in a white cloth and black blanket. She died while fleeing to exit 12 of Kanjuruhan Stadium.
A dozen friends had traveled with her to see the game, but Hikmah was one of only four able to enter the stadium as tickets were sold out, her friend, Abdul Mukid, said on Monday. He then bought a ticket from a broker after hearing about the chaos inside the stadium in order to search for Hikmah.
“I have to find her, save her,” Mukid recalled thinking.
Mukid found Hikmah’s body lying in a building in the stadium compound, with broken ribs and bluish bruises on his face. He learned that a second friend had also died from other friends who called him while he was in an ambulance transporting Hikmah’s body to hospital.
“I cannot express in words how much my pain is to lose my sister,” said Nur Laila, Hikmah’s older sister.
“She was just a big Arema fan who wanted to see her favorite team play. She shouldn’t die just for that,” she said, wiping away tears.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has ordered the suspension of the premier football league until security is reassessed and tightened. The Indonesian football association also banned Arema from hosting football matches for the rest of the season.
Arema FC President Gilang Widya Pramana expressed his sadness and deepest apologies to the victims and the people of Indonesia and said he was ready to take full responsibility for the tragedy that occurred at his team’s stadium.
He said management, coach and players were in shock and speechless.
“I am ready to provide assistance, even if it cannot restore the lives of the victims,” Pramana told a press conference Monday at Arema’s headquarters in Malang.
“This incident was beyond expectation, beyond reason…in a game watched only by our fans, not a single rival fan,” he said, sobbing. “How can this match kill over 100 people?”
He said Arema FC was ready to accept any sanction from the Indonesian Football Association and the government and that “I hope it will be a very valuable lesson”.
Indonesian Security Minister Mohammad Mahfud said he would conduct an investigation that will look into law violations during the disaster and provide recommendations to the president to improve football security. The investigation should be completed in three weeks.
Mahfud ordered national police and military leaders to punish those who committed crimes and actions that sparked the stampede.
“The government has urged the national police to assess their security procedures,” Mahfud told a news conference.
Rights group Amnesty International has urged Indonesia to investigate the use of tear gas and ensure that those responsible are tried in open court. Although FIFA has no control over domestic matches, it has advised against the use of tear gas in football stadiums.
Despite Indonesia’s lack of international notoriety in sport, hooliganism is rampant in the football-obsessed country where fanaticism often ends in violence. Data from Indonesian football watchdog Save Our Soccer showed that 78 people had died in gambling-related incidents over the past 28 years.
Saturday’s game was one of the worst sporting disasters in the world, including a 1996 World Cup qualifier between Guatemala and Costa Rica in Guatemala City, in which more than 80 people died and more than 100 were injured. In April 2001, more than 40 people were crushed to death during a football match at Ellis Park in Johannesburg, South Africa. In February 2012, 74 people were killed and over 500 injured after a match between rivals al-Masry and al-Ahly when thousands of al-Masry supporters invaded the pitch and attacked visiting supporters. The Egyptian league was suspended for two years as a result.
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